Pigment Ink vs. Dye Ink for Industrial Product Coding

Across industries, traceable markings, date codes, and other key bits of information are commonly required to appear on products due to government regulations, distribution network policies, or both.

Code compliance hinges on using the right combination of printing hardware and ink to mark your products. Product coding is a vast field that is filled with various solutions to complete different applications. Substrate choice, processing arrangements, line configuration, facility environmental issues, and other factors all can affect whether an ink formula will produce a clean, high-quality code or an unreadable mess.

When searching for colored ink for your marking requirements, you will likely need to decide between a pigment-based formula and a dye-based formula. In this article, we compare pigment ink vs. dye ink to examine:

  1. What makes these types of formulas different from one another.
  2. The pros and cons of these ink types.
  3. When to use pigment ink instead of dye ink and vice versa.

If you have additional questions about any of our formulas, please reach out to our sales team for answers.

Pigment Ink vs. Dye Ink: Basic Background Information

In every ink formula, there is at least one substance that gives the mixture a distinct color. These “colorants” almost always fall into two categories: pigments and dyes.

Pigment particles are around 0.05-0.20 micrometers in size, which is about the same as sand. The pigment does not dissolve in the ink. Instead, the pigment remains suspended in the formula, similar to how sand remains solid when added to water. 

To prevent the colorant particles from clumping together, printers like the DuraCode Pigment Printer (internal unit pictured to the right) continuously circulate ink during operation. Pigment ink printers with a circulation mechanism are not compatible with dye inks, and dye ink printers are not compatible with pigment inks. 

Dye inks have the opposite effect. Dye particles are much smaller than pigment particles, measuring less than 4 nanometers in size (i.e., 0.004 mm). When added to an ink formula, the dye completely dissolves into the mixture, similar to how sugar readily dissolves when added to water.

Because of their different colorants, pigment inks and dye inks have distinct qualities, including different: 

  • Dry times
  • Color appearances
  • Durability properties

In our next section, we will look at the benefits and disadvantages of these different properties.

Pigment Ink vs. Dye Ink: Pros and Cons

The different colorants used to create pigment inks and dye inks give these formulas unique properties. Some of these properties are relatively neutral (e.g., red dye inks are slightly more vibrant than red pigment inks), while others are obvious strengths and weaknesses.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Pigment Ink

With pigment inks, the most obvious drawback is price. Due to raw material costs, pigment ink cartridges can cost two to three times more than dye ink cartridges. 

Another disadvantage is that pigment inks must be circulated periodically to avoid clumping. Pigment continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers automatically perform this function, but thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers do not. If you use a pigment TIJ ink cartridge, you will have to manually shake it after five or more minutes of inactivity to prevent clumping. 

Finally, pigment inks typically aren’t as bright as dye inks due to how the large pigment particles scatter light. Black pigment ink, however, will appear darker and more opaque than dye ink. 

However, one of the strengths of pigment ink lies in its resistant qualities. Once dry, pigment inks are:

  • Light-resistant, keeping their colors for months and even years in direct sunlight.
  • Heat-resistant in extreme environments, making them an ideal fit for high-heat environments or materials that are printed at very high temperatures, such as wire and cable extrusion facilities and autoclave processes.
  • Water-resistant to prevent code smudging, smearing, or scratching due to moisture or water blasts.

Thanks to these properties, pigment inks are valued by companies that need product codes to survive demanding packaging processes and/or potentially disruptive environmental factors.

The Strengths of Dye Ink

As we touched on above, dye ink cartridges are more affordable than pigment inks and don’t experience colorant clumping. They also have softer, more vibrant colors than pigment inks other than on black or dark-colored substrates due to their smaller colorant particles. The smaller particles also lead to quicker drying times, which is often a great quality for production line printing.

Searching for a New Pigment or Dye Ink? InkJet, Inc. Has a Formula for You

Ink selection is one of the most important aspects of industrial product coding. With the right ink formula, you can:

  • Ensure that all applied markings properly adhere to your products.
  • Create durable markings that can survive the entire product life cycle.
  • Account for any challenging environmental factors (e.g., high heat, water presence, etc.).
  • Find a code color that pops on your product packaging.

At InkJet, Inc., we have been creating and selling ink formulas for more than 30 years. Our ink offerings not only contain a variety of pigment and dye inks but several specialty formulas for continuous inkjet and thermal inkjet printers as well. If you are looking for a new formula to fit your coding and marking needs, contact our sales team today to discuss which option is right for you.

Do you have more pigment ink vs. dye ink questions? Contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.